Review: Manic Street Preachers

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The Holy Bible (Epic)
by Tim Kennedy

The Manic Street Preachers could have become many things. They could have become a comic book punk band. They could have 'turned Heavy Metal'. Instead they have become one of the most important and original bands in years, and certainly one of the foremost live rock n roll experiences of today. They do combine elements of metal and punk - the 1977 rather than '92 or '65 variety.

The lyrics to this album almost deserve a separate review. None of the Manics third opus is describable as easy listening by any stretch of the imagination but this album is the Manics' most important effort yet, both musically and lyrically. It is at once a personal statement of Richey Edwards' just prior to mental breakdown, and (at the risk of sounding pretentious, which the album isn't) a thorough investigation into some central malaises of the 20th century.

Yes strongly recalls mid period Jam - Thick As Thieves from 1979's Setting Sons and The Place I Love from the seminal 1978 All Mod Cons album spring to mind. Despite the tragic lyrics this a very beguiling tune. The lyric describes the process of becoming a commodity in highly disturbing sexual terms.

IfWhiteAmericaToldTheTruthForOneDayItsWorldWouldFallApart follows a sample from a radio/tv announcement for a commemorative ceremony for Ronnie Reagan - the song is built around a disconcerting riff with a staccato drumming to emphasize the overtly anti-militarist lyrics. They have a dig at British as well as US conservatism and institutionalised racism. Thinking back to the Clash's I'm So Bored With The USA, Joe Strummer and Co's effort is far more trivialized and throwaway in comparison. This may put some people's backs up, but the Manics are down on everything so they oughtn't be regarded as anti-American on the strength of this song. Their longstanding heroes Public Enemy may be the primary source of inspiration.

Of Walking Abortion musically treads familiar punk-metal territory and this is closer to the style of their first album. There are echoes of Killing Joke's early work here in abundance. The lyric evokes images of war criminals deaths and degradation with the refrain 'Who's responsible - you fucking are'.

She Is Suffering has a sinister developing guitar figure at its heart. The chorus has echoes of The Drowners by Suede. The Manics have been close to both Butler and the remaining Suede members and toured with Suede. The words are a harsh attack on the concept of beauty.

Archives of Pain is built around a moody Nicky Wire bassline with a riffing chorus. The song condemns humanity as being fatally flawed with evil. The chorus lists French proto nazi Le Pen along with Dahmer, Russian fascist Zhirinovsky, child murderer Hindley and so on in a continuation of the theme from Of Walking Abortion. The languid coda emphasizes theme of malignancy.

Revol is my favorite single from last year with its insidious post-punk assault emphasizing the corruption of Russian/other revolutionary history. The litany of Communist heroes (villains?) is accompanied by a fiendishly catchy punk tune.

4st 7lb concerns the plight of anorexic young women in a continuation of the theme in She Is Suffering. This song has had a lot of critical praise in the UK and a wide impact; a teacher recently wrote in a letter to the New Musical Express that one of her pupils at an all female school had read out the lyrics at a poetry reading and brought the school to their feet. The tune follows the amorphous structure of the words, with the instruments intoning sympathetically. The lyrics on The Holy Bible are all superb but the ones to 4st 7lb are particularly so. The opening riff is reminiscent of The Jam's Eton Rifles, emerging after the sampled words of an anorexia victim.

The tune to the verses in Mausoleum is latter Joy Division: the chorus roars into a kind of Sex Pistols-ian refrain. The words do not mention Auschwitz but deal with the effect of the Holocaust on society and the refrain of 'No Birds' is a reference to the notable lack of birdsong in preserved grounds of Nazi concentration camps today.

Faster sums up how far the Manics have progressed since the days of their first single, Motown Junk. The aggression is there with all the lyrical subversion, but with much-improved technique. The technical precision doesn't cloud the naked fury and instead sharpens its focus.

This Is Yesterday is a ballad, almost Beatlesy, despite the band's vowed dislike of John Lennon. It has a gorgeous melody. The lyric describes nervous breakdown from the point of view of the sufferer.

Die In The Summertime was not a prophecy as it turned out, as Richey Manic is well and back in the band. The tune is punk-metal and the chorus kicks in with a slab of vintage Steve Jones guitar once again. The words continue with the theme of depression and nervous collapse.

The Intense Humming Of Evil is redolent of the second Joy Division album with its unusual drum/rhythm track and the reference to 20th century atrocities. The opening sample is a narrative from an old film, a fantasy in which victims of war crimes rise up to sit in judgement on their former tormentors.

PCP is the perfect song to end this set as a fine example of speeding clinical punk rock. The lyrics attack the 'new establishment' of political correctness. You need not agree with the words in order to enjoy a fine pogoing tune.

The album is interspersed with sinister quotes many of which are unidentifiable, but all contribute to the general theme of self-destruction and disgust - both with humanity and with self. These are not pleasant words, but the album is compelling and the music is extremely listenable. The influences aren't overpowering but are tastefully displayed with great technical ability.

(Editor's Note: This album, which first was released in Europe in August of 1994, was scheduled to be released in the United States on March 28, 1995. Because of Richey Edwards' disappearance, the release date for The Holy Bible has been tentatively pushed back until July, 1995.)


[My note - There was no American release of this album until the 10th anniversary edition in 2005.]

[Originally published: westnet.com/consumable/, 27 March 1995]

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